The extreme poverty we don't want to see
The couple who died by asphyxiation inside a shack in Montcada i Reixac in a shanty town on the banks of the Besòs river with half a thousand substandard housing units, brings us face to face with a reality of extreme poverty that we live with without seeing it, or without wanting to see it. It is like the homeless who live in the street, who often have the feeling of being transparent to people's eyes. The two latest victims, who are thought to have died from smoke inhalation, join the family (parents and two very young children) who on November 30 lost their lives in a squat in Barcelona's Plaza Tetuan, in the Eixample in Barcelona, due to a fire. These are realities that we have next door. Not even the combination of social services and charities is enough to attend the growing poverty that remains in the margins of everything, in a complicated subsistence. As we know well, the arrival of cold weather is the most critical moment. These are entrenched situations that have become worse: the coronavirus crisis, when we had not yet finished recovering from the previous economic crisis, has put many people on the edge of the abyss. "Social services have never come here, only the police to warn us not to make too big a fire. This is the frontier," said a settlement dweller, from this forgotten slice of no man's land. The mayor of the town herself, Laura Campos, helpless, describes the situation as a favela in constant growth in the middle of the metropolitan area. In the case of Tetuan, in the heart of Barcelona, social services had visited, and the oldest child attended school. But it had not been possible to provide them with decent and legal housing.
We are, therefore, facing a problem which is perfectly well known by the authorities and by the charities that try to plug holes in the midst of an avalanche of extreme situations. But neither one nor the other, nor the coordinated sum of the two, succeed. The result is that, in reality, we are facing an emergency that has become so obvious that we have ended up normalising it, not to say trivialising it with a self-indulgent "we already know". They are third-class citizens, often without the right to vote, without papers, who do not count. Therefore, their problem, their misery, their fragility, is not ours. They are the last rung of those expelled from the system by the triple cocktail of unemployment, job insecurity and difficulties in accessing housing.
But in the same way as the 1992 Olympic Games managed to put an end to shantyism in Barcelona, we now need an ambitious welfare plan of Catalan scope to eradicate this new shantyism that has been growing in the margins of the country's metropolitan areas. Or are we perhaps willing to coexist, as if nothing happened, with such harsh realities as these, which involve death by suffocation or fire of people living in third world conditions in substandard housing? Is this the country we want? Are these people part of our society?